Gustavo Ayon started in place of Paul Millsap and had six points. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/NBA)

Injuries Putting a Damper on a Fine Season for the Atlanta Hawks

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Nothing is more crippling for an upstart team than a rash of serious injuries. This year’s Atlanta Hawks squad have certainly had their fair share.

The Hawks have used 10 different starting lineups so far in this young season, and there will be more shuffling in the days and weeks ahead. Only Jeff Teague has appeared in all 41 of the Hawks games prior to Friday’s match, and although only one player has had his season end early, the variety of day-to-day nicks and sprains have hampered Atlanta’s ability to separate themselves from the Eastern Conference crowd.

Worst of all, they have been centered on the power forward and center positions, forcing the hand of Coach Budenholzer and the rest of the coaching staff. Al Horford is out for the season with a torn right pectoral and recent news is confirming that Pero Antic will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a foot fracture. It’s been tough sledding for the Hawks to tread water during this year of transition, as players aim to get comfortable with new schemes. Chemistry must be gained over a long period of time and that can’t happen with teammates donning suits during gametime.

What are some possible short term solutions?

Until others get healthy, the team must make do by forcing others into bigger minutes. As of now, the Hawks are down to three healthy big men, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, and Mike Scott, with a definitive maybe placed on the status of Gustavo Ayón. Ayón has dealt with back spasms all season long, a tough injury for a big 6’10” frame, but the recent news means he’ll be given plenty of rope to play in the coming days if health permits.

All three of the former listed above have played admirably considering the situation. Millsap has stepped into Horford’s role as the main option on offense. Long time veteran Brand has lost a good portion of the scoring ability he possessed earlier in his career, but is still a guile defender and leader in the locker room. One of the biggest surprises this season, along with Shelvin Mack, has been the play of Mike Scott. It’s difficult and rare to find players worthy of a rotational minutes in the second round of the draft, but that’s exactly what the Hawks have found in their second year forward. Scott is averaging over 8 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes a game off the bench.

As a result, Millsap and Scott will be asked to carry the offensive load for the Hawks’ big men. With Pero Antic going down, there is one less three point threat on the court for the team so look for Millsap and Scott to have the green light from long range. Scott has never been a shy scorer, and he has the highest rate of field goal attempts per 36 minutes of the remaining Hawk at over 15 FGA/36 min. Millsap is close behind with 14.7, and that number has risen with the loss of Al Horford. A heavy burden will be placed on those two to keep the offense afloat.

Over the course of the game, however, players get fatigued and may run into foul trouble. Should that happen, we could see the 6’8” DeMarre Carroll play the power forward for stretches. According to Basketball-Reference’s position estimator, Carroll played a significant portion of his time at that spot earlier in his career but virtually none in recent years. He will certainly draw more difficult defensive assignments, as he’ll be matched up against significantly bigger opponents than his listed 215 lb. frame but times are tough and Carroll’s selflessness suggests he’ll have no qualms with sacrificing for the team. Of course, not immediately, as he’s been ruled out for tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs and Saturday’s match against the Milwaukee Bucks (sigh).

Should the Hawks make any long term moves to supplement the roster?

Short answer: no. At least nothing that comprises the future of the club. Hawks fans are all too familiar with building a team that maxes out at the second round of the playoffs. Atlanta has the rights to two players playing and developing in the Spanish ACB League, and both Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala profile as legitimately capable 7 footers on both ends of the floor.

It is certainly unfortunate that the Hawks have run into so many injuries, but there weren’t championship expectations for this club in the first place. The Hawks know the value of salary controlled first rounders and even second rounders under a new CBA that looks to punish teams that repeatedly cross the tax threshold, so sending away picks for temporary supplement would be beyond foolish. In addition, Al Horford should have no long term effects from the freak torn muscle he suffered a month ago. All this adds up to say it is best to deal with the situation internally and hope for the swift and complete recoveries of the banged-up Hawks.

As a team, the Hawks remain in the third spot in the Eastern Conference by a thread, but pushes by the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and even the Chicago Bulls and the formerly lifeless Brooklyn Nets could push the Hawks down the standings in conjunction with an Atlanta slide. A 22-19 record is a proud accomplishment considering the many obstacles the Hawks have already dealt with this season. The Hawks have been here before, and Antic’s foot injury is just the latest in a season of hurdles.

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Tags: Al Horford Atlanta Hawks Pero Antic

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